Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Most Beautiful thing

In some areas of Ghana, it is custom to dye soles, palms, and fingernails the various shades of Henna. It’s considered a mark of beauty and I’ve caught glimpses of it, taking the form of faint orange pads, as proof.

Today, while riding in a tro to Tamale, my attention is turned to the hands of the woman sitting next to me – she is searching her bag for change. I am struck, suddenly, by the color of her dyed palms and fingernails. It is a deep red – red like the setting sun, red like drying blood – and it inhabits every free patch of skin on the underside of her long, dark hands from wrist to fingertip. It is painted, one shade fading into the next, onto each fingernail. Her skin is the perfect shade of ebony to this deep red. Like a dance, they fade in and out of one another, sloping the folds and wrinkles of her skin. I am not struck by its simplicity; I am struck by its complexity.

In this moment, this woman’s hands are, quite definitively, the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. Her palms, mapped in color, are a work of art. I cannot stop staring, nor can I work up the courage to ask for a picture. Instead, I take one while she sleeps. I tell myself it is better she doesn’t realize the beauty of her hands for, then, she wouldn’t wear them so perfectly.

It is today that I finally understand why the practice is considered so beautiful.